The Wave Theory of Difference and Similarity

The Wave Theory of Difference and Similarity

The Wave Theory of Difference and Similarity

The Wave Theory of Difference and Similarity

Synopsis

Two experimental procedures have prompted the empirical development of psychophysical models: those that measure response frequency, often referred to as response probability; and those that measure response time, sometimes referred to as reaction time. The history of psychophysics is filled with theories that predict one or the other of these two responses. Yet the persistent reappearance of empirical relationships between these two measures of performance makes clear the need for a theory that both predicts and relates these two measures. Most likely, both response measures are the result of a single process that generates empirical laws relating response time and response probability. It is this process - its theory, description, and application - that is the topic of The Wave Theory of Difference and Similarity. The author of this book has set out to provide a theoretical foundation for formulating new theories that systematize earlier results and to stimulate new concepts and introduce new tools for exploring mental phenomena and improving mental measurement.

Excerpt

The first astonishing discovery that injury to the body caused sensation in the mind is now lost in prehistoric memory. Yet, such puzzling discoveries were likely precursors to later, more refined, philosophical analyses of relationships between the body and mind. Following an initial spate of philosophical curiosity, centuries passed before the scientific concepts needed to analyze our hidden feelings sprang into existence. Then, these secret elements of mental life became the subject matter of Psychophysics and of its offspring, Experimental Psychology.

Gustav Fechner created Psychophysics about 1850 in Leipzig, Germany. By 1860 his famous Elemente der Psychophysik proclaimed Psychophysics to be "an exact theory of the functionally dependent relations of body and soul or, more generally, of the material and the mental, of the physical and psychological worlds". From a solid mathematical base it became a powerful discipline devoted to the measurement of psychological phenomena: measurements of what many now consider to be the mind.

What exactly do Psychophysical methods measure? At first, the measurement of a sensory threshold was challenge enough. Then, having determined the physical magnitude that generated the first awareness of a stimulus, psychophysicists established the additional stimulation needed to produce a just noticeable increment in sensation. These measures of sensation depended upon determining, somehow, the amount of physical stimulation applied to an exterior body surface. Yet, only by measuring the amount of internal mental sensation, without reference to external physical events, could psychophysics create a tool to advance the scientific study of unseen psychological events.

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